Undue Influence and Estate PlanningAn unpleasant reality is there are some people in this world who are willing to manipulate other people for their own gain.  These same individuals usually do not have qualms about exerting their influence over someone who is vulnerable in order to secure a financial benefit.  Sadly, the vulnerable person may fall victim to this type of conduct in relation to their estate planning.  The law refers to this kind of manipulative or coercive behavior as “undue influence”.  Unfortunately, undue influence is not usually discovered until after the victim has died leaving loved ones in a position of having to turn to the courts for intervention.   However, being knowledgeable about and on the watch for undue influence can serve to protect you and your family.

What is Undue Influence?

In the context of estate planning, undue influence refers to circumstances where a person uses unfair pressure or coerces an individual who is making a will or trust or other important estate planning decision. Undue influence can occur in various ways.  For instance, there may be undue influence when someone pressures the victim into naming them as a beneficiary of their will or trust or to leaving them a disproportionate share of their estate.  This kind of pressure may also be present when the person uses their influence cause the victim to disinherit a beneficiary or otherwise direct their assets.  It can also occur when a person places undue influence on a person while they are preparing their power of attorney or directive for healthcare documents.  Additionally, undue influence may be present when a person causes the victim to add them to property titles and bank accounts or to give them money or gifts.  Further, a person using undue influence may threaten the victim into signing their estate documents.

Signs of Undue Influence

While Michigan does not have a statute which defines undue influence, courts typically look at the entirety of the circumstances when deciding whether undue influence is present.  Some signs to consider will be if the person’s will or trust does not appear to be in keeping with what they have said in the past.  Another sign would be the recent presence of an individual in the victim’s life and affairs who later receives an unexpected or unlikely benefit.  Likewise, the addition of a questionable person to a bank account or property title may also be a sign of a negative influence.  While having a relationship with the individual is not necessarily undue influence, persons close to the person including a spouse, family member, or caregiver may also be looked at more closely due to their relationship with and proximity to the victim.

Raising a claim of undue influence is no small matter.  Proving this claim involves gathering and presenting evidence of the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s estate planning.  To best present your case it is important to meet with an experienced attorney.  Our office has experience with contesting wills and trusts on the basis of undue influence and can provide you with the information you need. Please contact us online or by phone if we may be of assistance.

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